Start Up Blog

Don’t do your homework

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on August 29, 2011

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the most important thing I have ever not done, is my homework at school. Most of grade school and high school, I basically didn’t do my homework. I knew it was due the next day. I worried a little, but not enough to actually do it.

While other kids were doing their homework after school, I was out playing with the other kids, getting up to mischief. Riding my BMX, playing games (footy, cricket, building tree houses etc). I can home late, often. Mum would yell at me and I had to think of an excuse as to why I was late. I would have to provide at least some kind of creative response. Then after dinner I’d be too tired to do my homework. So I’d promise myself I’d get up early and do it in the morning. When morning arrived I’d be too tired to do it then either… In short the homework would rarely get done. Almost never. When I got to school, the same charade would occur. That is, me thinking of creative reasons why my homework was not getting done. Firstly to the teachers to try and avoid an after school detention. Again later, explaining to my mother why I ‘had’ an after school detention. In hindsight it was all a little stressful. Thinking on my feet for answer. Answers I didn’t have at such a young age, with little fast thinking experience.

Turns out this was a pretty good career move, or even ‘life skill’.

In the end, years of being naughty, taught me how to do something far more valuable than having high grades in senior school. It taught me how to think on my feet and how to present to an audience that wants answers. But it also did a lot more than that. Eventually it showed me how to read the play on different peoples reactions to bad news, that rules could be broken if you could sell an alternative.

It even goes a little deeper when I think it through….

I wasn’t just watching TV when I wasn’t doing said homework. I was out in the street playing. Building things with other kids. Under taking projects, playing games and interacting. Doing real things with real people. Operating in ‘live’ human environments, where the results, in this case the ‘fun’, was based on my ability to motivate other kids and organize them. All this, rather than spending my after school day light hours memorizing a bunch I’ve crap that someone had deemed it important for me to regurgitate in some test.

And now as the years have passed I’m reasonably certain that the key to any success I’ve had in life has been due to my ability to influence people. I’m also pretty sure that not doing my homework was where it all started.

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29 Responses

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  1. Yvonne Adele said, on August 29, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    AGREED! great read..

    Yvonne (@ideasculture via twitter)

  2. Marty Kemka said, on August 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Why weren’t there adults like you around when I was a kid?

    Marty (@martykemka via twitter)

    • Steve Sammartino said, on August 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm

      I’m pretty sure there are still not many teachers like me out there. The biggest problem we have with our education system are simple.

      1. They are designed for the industrial era. For the production & consumption ethic. Not based on a new ‘idea economy, where left brain thinking is outsourced to the micro chip.
      2. it has turned into a competition for tertiary places. Where scores matter more than actual learning.

      If we can bust down these barriers, and give our children their childhoods back – and let them ‘play’ a little we might just start generating the leaders we need to save humanity.

      I think Sir Ken Robinson goes does a great job on the topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY

      Steve.

  3. Josh G McDonald said, on August 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Agreed 100%.

    Josh (@sophistifunk via twitter)

  4. irldexter said, on August 29, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Maybe your online copy would be more correct and thus pack more weight if you did _some_ of your homework ;)

    • Steve Sammartino said, on August 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm

      Look, I did a little of it…. but I’m certain we’d have a smart society if we put less weight on it, and more on skills that matter – and giving kids time to explore and develop their minds.

      Steve.

  5. Eric said, on August 30, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Steve, you should not have been forced to lie. Unfortunately your experience is not the exception, it is the rule! And it is the rule now nearly world-wide for all children.

    I suggest every parent “do their homework” before sending children off for institutionalized schooling. History is most enlightening on this topic.

    “The purpose of the system was to instill loyalty to the Crown and to train young men for the military and the bureaucracy.” – Wikipedia article on the Prussian schooling system [1]

    The Prussian schooling system is the first successful mandatory schooling system in the history of the world, started in the early 1800’s. It’s primary goal was conditioning people for obedience to power. The United States, Japan and most other western governments enforce a similar schooling system which is a direct ideological descendant of the Prussian system of the 1800’s

    If you are interested in studying the roots of and the current status of the western schooling system, as well as it’s effects children, I suggest reading the books of John Taylor Gatto. Here is a video of him from 1991 [2].

    “What if they had a war, and nobody came?”

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussian_education_system
    [2] http://tragedyandhope.com/video/classrooms-of-the-heart-john

  6. Unconvinced.... said, on August 30, 2011 at 8:41 am

    I’m not sold.

    It seems like you only learned that personal gratification comes before duty and lying is ok as long as you can tailor it to the audience.

    You spent your afternoons out with other kids who either had the work ethic to do their homework after dinner or also didn’t do their homework. Of the other ones who didn’t do their homework, how many of them are also CEO’s. Just because it works for you doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

    How much more could you have learned (about time management, the rewards of hard work, and which words don’t get spaces in the middle of them) if you had done your homework?

    There are absolutely things that need to be changed about the modern school system, but homework and holding students accountable for homework is not one of them.

    All I see in this is a justification for laziness rather than a serious argument that you gained “life-skills.”

  7. Phil said, on August 30, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I like this post, I’ve come to the same conclusion lately. (gotta think about this stuff once the kids arrive!)

    My long held view is that schools are there to teach baseline knowledge, what the average person should know on average, to be average, and maybe at most place for them to start from to move on the the above average stuff. But homework has always offended me, I remember telling my younger sisters not to do so much! If they can’t teach the baseline knowledge in the school hours they shouldn’t waste kids time that can be spent learning the real world stuff. (be it reading, building, exploring whatever it takes to develop an interest in life).

    But there are some caveats
    – I can romanticize about never doing homework, but I do remember finishing the stuff I found interesting in the morning while watching the kids arrive at school (I could see my primary school from my bedroom window)
    – I studied my arse off for the first time in the last 6 months of high school, as I saw it that was the game, a hurdle to jump. it was a bad habit I kept in uni.
    – Lateline was one of my favourite TV shows to watch instead of doing homework. I might not be normal :-)
    – If you wanna be slightly above average, I’m sure homework is great.

    But now I’ve lived for almost 10 years in another country where I don’t even have much of that baseline knowledge (i.e. literacy, vocabulary), and the locals are very serious about study and consuming every moment of a child’s life with study and activities. All I really have is those interests in understanding and building things developed since primary school, and quite frankly it’s been a real and strong comparative advantage.

  8. Megan said, on August 30, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    8 hours a day of sitting still while someone talks at you THEN more hours when you get home. When do kids get to be kids these days? You might be interested in the Unschooling movement Steve. It is a pity that letting kids explore, learn at their own pace etc is considered radical these days.

    • Rachel said, on February 1, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      I agree I just think we need a lot less homework! We need a balance and kids can still play and discover to build those skills but home work is just about remembering the material and i know some people who would flunk out with out home work!

  9. Shane said, on August 30, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I notice that the commenters arguing _against_ this view feel the need to nitpick Steve’s spelling and grammar, as if that is any real measure of ones education anymore.

    How many “successful” CEOs and businessmen can differentiate your/you’re? There/their/they’re? In my experience, probably half, if you’re lucky.

    Lets get back to the point at hand – what the current schooling system fails to teach us. We have a fast-paced, ever-evolving industry of technology and business, but a schooling system that does not even come close to keeping up.

    @Eric hits the nail on the head. We have an archaic system designed to mould the young into obedient followers, rather than leaders.

    I personally didn’t take this article as encouragement to be a delinquent, but rather to perpetually reconsider the status quo, and the traditional formats that are pressed upon us.

    • Steve Sammartino said, on August 31, 2011 at 12:41 pm

      One of the few who gets it Shane. Time to re-consider: What type and how much. Not to study or not to study!

      Steve.

    • Unconvinced.... said, on September 1, 2011 at 10:26 am

      Spelling and grammar are not necessarily measures of education, but they are absolutely measures of attention to detail, which is something that a good education can instill in you.

      Good grammar and proper use of homophones are signs that someone took the time to read over the résumé, brief, report, whatever before handing it in. Showing care in your work means that I should care about your work.

      Students need to learn when to be obedient followers and when to be leaders. Both are qualities that everyone needs and the ability to discern which to be at a given time is invaluable. A student who diligently gets his homework done despite other distractions and responsibilities is the definition of a “self-starter,” which is what all the businesses are looking for these days. Homework teaches independent responsibility and diligence without constant supervision. To say that these things are archaic and unnecessary is patently false.

      Many teachers are working hard to come up with new and innovative lesson plans that engage the students and teach “21st century necessities.” They are working hard to mold their classes to the new student, but often the best way to learn is to read, take notes, and practice. That requires homework, if only to ensure that the 8 hours in the classroom can include science labs, dance classes, and woodworking rather than just “someone talking at you.”

      Homework is a necessity. Try learning an instrument or a foreign language without doing homework. Many deadlines are fungible, but at the same time a lot of team projects require other people to get their work done and so you are helping out your team immensely if you can get your work done in a timely manner, which is another positive behavior learned by homework.

      The unschooling movement is interesting as are the Montessori schools and other alternative learning philosophies. Many schools are moving to a project-based learning system because it is more on par with what is needed in today’s workforce, it helps incorporate the 21st century ideals and teaches to the way that the digital generation’s brains are wired, but you can’t have “project-based learning” without “projects,” and that means, at some point, homework.

      • Steve Sammartino said, on September 1, 2011 at 11:15 am

        My question to you is this:
        Do you really think I never did any homework…. or do you think I’m trying to make a point on balance and mix of skills that matter?

        Steve.

      • Unconvinced.... said, on September 3, 2011 at 1:34 am

        Of course you did homework, but I don’t feel that this post is really making any point on the balance of skills. It is touting that you learned that charisma will keep you from having to do what is expected.

  10. Josh Moore said, on August 31, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I conducted an experiment in high school after reading “You can negotiate anything” by Herb Cohen.

    The premise was that every deadline is the result of a negotiation, therefore every deadline is negotiable. I took one of my year 11 legal study assignments and negotiated the deadline.

    The results? I handed in my assignment SEVEN WEEKS LATE, and still managed to receive a pass. Due to the fact that the worst on-time submission was an F+, and they couldn’t give me a better mark than someone who submitted on time, the teacher opted to pass me with an ‘S’ for satisfactory completion (he did comment the quality of work was at an ‘A’ level).

    That went down as one of the best educational experiences I ever received from school homework, and has served me greatly ever since.

    Perhaps children could be empowered to negotiate how much homework they do – and whether they do it at all – based on their output throughout the rest of the day…

  11. Geoff Long said, on August 31, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Why can’t we allow kids to both play and explore AND do their homework? Mine are doing some form of sport or play every night, but I still insist they do their homework as a way of instilling self-discipline, among other things. And we still have time left over for dinner at the table together and some trashy tv for good measure.

    • Rachel said, on February 1, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      Thank you! Frankly I’m in high school and I think home work is good because it helps you remember what you have learned how ever we do need less as I don’t have time before its dark to go out side! But I do my homework I explore and I think in my feet do if you have a balanced life such as your kids seem too home work is great!!

  12. Andrew Howard said, on August 31, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Love this post, particularly at younger ages – better to get out, take risks, live and learn!

    Andrew (@Andrew_Howard via twitter)

  13. Tuomo Tanskanen said, on August 31, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I did my homework, and I lack at that dpt :-)

  14. Rohan Cooke (@rohancooke) said, on August 31, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    It’s all relative.
    playtime for you may seem like homework for others. I love browsing the web for the ‘new thing’, on the other hand, others may prefer to sit in a pool of piranhas.

  15. Daniel Sims said, on August 31, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Absolutely agree!!

    Daniel (@darosi via twitter)

  16. Fadi El-Eter said, on August 31, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Do BMX’s still exist? It’s like I’ve gone back 25 years in time, when having a BMX was the best thing any guy at my age (back then) can get.

  17. April Neylan said, on September 1, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Great article! I was one of “those” kids as well. Never did my homework and came up with some fantastic excuses as to why. I thought on my feet and shoud have been commended for my gall. Funnily enough, I was also the one in the class that aced oral presentations and drama.

    It is drilled into kids that they must do their homework and do well at school or else they will stuff up the rest of their lives… but that is such a load of crap! It takes all sorts in this world :)

  18. Ender Baskan said, on September 1, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    I’ve spent the 10 years since I finished high school trying to unlearn the behaviours I obediently followed (with my parents in the background cracking the whip.)

    Homework and school is the beginning of the narrowing of the human mind. We learn obedience to power and doing the done thing. Ticking off the boxes. No decisions needed, the road to success is preordained!

    Listen to mum, dad, teachers. Do your homework, go to Uni, go overseas maybe for a little while, get a steady job, do your time, find a partner, buy a house, have kids, retire, expire.

    On a little tangent – Instead of the doctrine of “keeping kids off the street”, the idea should be to “get kids off the couch”. TV is far more poisonous to a kid skipping class or skimping homework.

  19. Rachel said, on February 1, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I always do my homework yet I still have all those skills and more I’ve gained from doing it,.. And to be frank I’m amaizing on answering questions on my feet from things other then homework so if you have a balance it is better to do it.

  20. bonka said, on March 1, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Love it. I’m a homeschool convert and one of my biggest reasons is the same; I want to be living in the real world now, rather than the fantasy world of a controlling institution. Skipping homework may not be for everyone, but the ability to learn in their ideal learning environment is. ex. by the ocean, listening to music, at the public library, on the grass, etc


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